If you want to add a few extra miles to the start of your North Norfolk coast walk and to get a feel for the many contrasts that this stretch of shore has to offer then consider starting out from Snettisham Beach instead of the more usual Hunstanton or Holme-next-the-Sea. Walk to the official start of the path just past Old Hunstanton and you will have added just under seven miles to your trip.
Shingle, dunes and flood defences
Setting out from the beach car park, you start off over shingle, dunes and the ubiquitous Norfolk flood defences as the wind whips you along the edge of The Wash. Look over your shoulder back towards Lincolnshire and you may be treated to the slightly unsettling spectacle of tall trees visible on the far side of the water. But, after not much more than a mile on this rather soft sand, a footpath cuts inland and offers you a meandering high-level (and mercifully firm) walk along the grassy top of a dyke. From this vantage point you can see for miles inland as well as out across the water – and Hunstanton looks deceptively close. This juxtaposition of saltmarsh to your right and shoreline to your left will soon come to feel extremely familiar. Anyone who chooses to stick with the beach instead of taking the inland diversion will be treated to a wild stretch of dunes the like of which won’t be visible again until you are most of the way to Holme.
Those on the footpath will soon find themselves approaching a long straggle of chalets and caravans that mark the outskirts of Heacham. And here is the first of these abrupt changes of mood that are so characteristic of this path. Soon you are on a tarmac road walking past a vast static caravan park. It’s abundantly clear that holidaymakers are the most profitable cash crop round here and this is factory farming on a truly industrial scale. Heacham has plenty of other delights apart from the long vistas of caravan rooves including a chippy and a stall selling crisply-fried hot doughnuts which seem to be a staple of the Norfolk seaside. Another curious feature is the corral of bulldozers and earthmovers which seem to spend their off-hours penned up here before roaming up and down the coast baulking up the sands against the ravages of time and tide.
Pass Heacham South Beach Road and then, a few hundred yards further, the more northerly access road and some beach huts and you are embarking on what the map suggests is another deserted stretch. Not so. Now there’s a ribbon of development one building (or, in many cases, one caravan) deep all the way to Hunstanton. And it’s an extraordinary mix. Some of these dwellings are the wonderful, characterful semi-beach huts that must have been here for decades. Others are blocky, unattractive new build. Some lots have trailers, others are mostly derelict. All are defended against high tides and many have all their bedding draped over chairs and tables in a bid to keep it aired. One has a pink piano. It’s a striking lesson in just how much the English value their sea view – even when it’s a narrow, lead-grey strip of The Wash.
The walking certainly gets easier here, with the route following the top of flood defences again and solid concrete underfoot means you’ll probably now be making better time than at any point on this walk so far. The route ahead takes a long, slow curve round towards the outskirts of Hunstanton and the main point of interest is avoiding a soaking from a set of flood defences that send seawater up in tall plumes that wouldn’t look out of place in a municipal fountain. Looking inland the view includes a number of fairground rides and other seaside attractions and the tall tower of a local school. It’s not much longer before you find yourself on the promenade and the famous striped cliffs are visible in the distance – proving that you have really arrived. Now it’s a stroll along the front enjoying everything this lovely little seaside town has to offer until you’re emerging out the other side and ready to start the walk proper.
Getting to Snettisham: – there’s a regular bus service from Kings Lynn which also has a rail station. For more details on travelling around East Anglia, visit the Traveline website.